ATTIRE & TRADITION
Dawoodi Bohra attire is a distinctive take on Islamic dress infused with cultural inspiration from their Yemeni and Indian ancestral homes. Both men and women have instantly identifiable clothing that blends Islamic requirements for modesty with the use of modern fabrics and colours. This blending of timeless designs with modern trends in clothing is yet another example of the community’s efforts to combine the time-honoured of the old and with the best and beneficial of the new.
Bohra men wear an ensemble consisting of a kurta (a long shirt), draped with a saya (outer robe) and an izaar (pantaloon) or trousers. The word ‘saya’, incidentally, means ‘shade’ in the Bohra Lisan-ul D`awat language. Their heads are donned with a stiff, hand crocheted topi which can be white with a gold border or entirely of gold thread.
The kurta-saya is predominantly white and tailored using all kinds of fabrics both plain and patterned. They are sometimes edged with a crochet border which can be white or coloured. Embroidery is also common around the collar and down the central edges of both garments.
If for a wedding, eid or similar special special occasion then the crochet and embroidery can be very elaborate, covering significant areas of both the front and rear of the saya and the kurta and often in gold thread. Even the fabrics themselves might be golden in colour.
Other colours have also started to be used more frequently though mainly for outings, work or travel. In a Bohra majlis (communal gathering) the colour must be white. The izaar is often of either very fine blue or grey stripes and is known as susi. The plain white kurta saya that is used in majlis or special prayer functions might also be starched.
For women the rida has become a trademark Bohra garment the like of which is not found anywhere else in the Muslim world. A dizzying array of colour and patterns is used and embroidery, lace or crochet work is to be found on every piece. The rida fulfils the Islamic requirement for limiting the exposure of the woman’s figure whilst remaining pleasing to the eye. Untold are the times that rida wearing ladies will have been asked, in countries across the world, where it is that they come from and what a truly beautiful dress it is that they are wearing.
Indeed a thriving mini industry has grown as women of the community have turned the rida into a fashion icon for the community. Ridas are now made to cater for every need of the Bohra woman. They are designed to be worn at work, for going out, special occasions, religious remembrances or just the ordinary day to day hustle and bustle of the modern Bohra woman.
They range from the workmanlike and simple to the lavishly decorated, embroidered and couture designs. Rida businesses by both men and women; designers, dressmakers, wholesale and retail store owners – both ‘brick and mortar’ and online – have boomed in the last couple of decades. Women in particular have found a niche market where their enterprise can reap a fine reward with some establishing a lucrative international presence from both ridas and the natural trend for matching accessories essential to a woman’s completed outfit.